In November 2020 the Family Solutions Group published their report ‘What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation’. The aim of the report was to find a better way to achieve good cooperative parenting between separated parents.
The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has said in response to the report:
“It should be a matter of concern for society in general to achieve better co-parenting between separating couples. It is thought that about 40% of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination, rather than exercising parental responsibility and sorting problems out themselves. This figure is both startling and worrying. Where there are no issues of domestic abuse or child protection, parents ought to be able, or encouraged, to make arrangements for their own child, rather than come to a court of law and a judge to resolve the issues. The number of these private law applications continues to increase, and the trend is that more and more parents see lawyers and the court as the first port of call in dispute resolution, rather than as the facility of last resort as it should be in all cases where domestic abuse or child protection are not an issue”.
So, what has happened over the last 12 months to address the inadequacies in the current system identified within the report?
Given the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU it will come as no surprise that there has not been any seismic change in legislation or substantial government action as yet. However, there have been some steps taken at the coalface with many of those who are involved in working with separating families wanting to ensure positive change is made sooner rather than later.
There are more local networks of family practitioners being established to promote an integrated approach to problem-solving issues between parents. These hubs/pods/alliances are being made up of practitioners such as therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and lawyers. Family practitioners should get involved with their local hub and if there isn’t one don’t be afraid to set one up. Be the change you want to see in the system. There are many well established hubs proving that it is an effective way of working, Sussex Family Solutions for instance was set up over a decade ago to share resources and expertise to find better outcomes for separating families. As the saying goes ‘teamwork makes the dream work’.
The What About Me? report recommended a wide public education campaign, to reframe family breakdown away from ‘justice’ language and a shift in language away from legal disputes towards a language of supporting parents to resolve issues together. The Family Law Language Project aims to do just that. The project has set up a website with helpful content about family law terms. It will also use social media platforms to help identify and inform people about the language used in family law, this could be by identifying the misuse of a family law term, or use of an unhelpful or aggressive language, in any form of media including online, in the press or on television. The Project recognises that everyone has something to learn about the language of family law and everyone has something to contribute. It therefore aims to provide a welcoming and accessible website with a variety of different content including videos and images along with traditional articles to help the project reach as many people as possible. The project also provides an email address and Contact Form for people to share their views and experiences.
An approach that takes into account the emotional state of the parents and their ability to resolve issues was recommended by the What About Me? report. The report highlights that a package of legal services, mediation and counselling should be recognised as best practice. This is an approach that we here at Family Law Partners have been taking since the firm was set up. Within our team at Family Law Partners we currently have 10 Mediators (including 2 Hybrid Mediators, a Mediator trained in both Family and Civil Mediation models and a Child Inclusive Mediator), 11 Collaborative Lawyers and an Arbitrator, plus this year we have embedded a full time therapist/counsellor into our team as our Director of Client Wellbeing.
Following the review of the What About Me? report the Family Mediation Council and Family Mediation Standards Board are looking to encourage the practice of Child Inclusive Mediation. They intend to set up a joint working group on the subject, and to that end are looking to recruit one of the new mediator members of the Family Mediation Standards Board with specific experience in this area to lead, and will then seek volunteers to join the group.
There are (hopefully) more initiatives around the country being set up to implement the recommendations of the What About Me? report.
If, like us, you want to see cooperative parenting after separation become the norm to benefit the hundreds of thousands of children in the UK who see their parents separate then it’s important to take action in whatever way you can.
It will take time to shift societal attitudes to prioritise child welfare and parental responsibility when parents separate. We can however all do something to facilitate this shift, we can all for instance at least be more mindful about how we behave and communicate with each other, whether that’s within a court process or not, and make our communications more respectful and more cooperative. The introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce process to be introduced in 2022 may help with this shift too and provide an opportunity for parents to have a healthier separation.
As the What About Me? report concludes “the time has now come to transform our thinking in both England and Wales towards an approach which puts safety first, and otherwise promotes a child- centred, child-inclusive, holistic approach for both parents and children”.
Our team of experienced family practitioners can work with you to ensure that your children are prioritised throughout the separation process. Please contact us for a confidential conversation with one of our specialists.
Gemma Hope is a Director, Specialist Family Law Solicitor, Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer in our Brighton team.